Field Somewhere Between Pie Town and Quemado
June 2012, “The Lightning Field”
Like those born blind, we long to see—or not to see so much
as to know what seeing is.
Ranched-out, ruined Chihuahuan desert,
creosote and cheat grass mostly, level as seabed or tideflat
but almost static. An old log cabin and wellhouse
built from the last of the last of the trees
overlook the ground and sky, miles of sameness
on the way to the mountain horizon line.
Sensing movement, the merest flicker of shadow,
a whiplash lizard goes still, stiff as a dead thing.
Alarm passed, she darts ahead, digs at the sand, stops, digs, stops, and darts …
She relies on stealth, speed, and camouflage
until the jaws of a predator open. Then she will sacrifice her skinny tail:
she’ll drop it, distracting her attacker with its antic snakey lash.
Also known as the lesbian lizard she needs no male to reproduce.
In a hurry, bound for creosote shade, she can run like a tiny brontosaurus.
The oldest (so far discovered) living thing on the planet
is a ring of creosote in California. 11,700 years old and alive,
its taproot taps the aquifer, its root crown spreads out wide
and shallow to capture just-fallen rain.
Unsequoia, insublime, O the practical creosote!
Hares and black-eared jack rabbits scuffle about,
their ears backlit, hot pink with heat and sun.
Spiders, a few slow bees, grasshoppers, and flies
would nag at the silence if silence existed on earth.
My intent, attentive, perceiving body chugs and clicks. White noise.
And the wind. The wind through the brush.
In the field antelope unfold themselves like lawn chairs
and leap off to re-disappear.
A cloud scuds in overhead and a scatter of raindrops dents the ground,
rattles the brush, and sets loose sage perfume.
The stutter rain stops. The cloud moves on. Somebody else’s storm.
When bison herds grazed here, they ate what grew—buffalo grass,
blue grama, and curly mesquite grass
down to the nub, trampling stray seeds into the ground with their shit,
and then they moved on—the whole herd—to graze
somewhere else. Wolves circled the herds like collies,
moving them on, keeping them close. From the land they left behind
grass rose up again live, some from the roots and some from seed:
xeric savanna—it must have been a gray-green sea.
A horned toad, ugly as hell and holy to Mary (they both weep blood tears,
the toad’s so toxic-tasting coyotes spit them out),
lies belly-down in chamisa and creosote shade outside the frame.
Ants exit and enter their mound inside the frame, oblivious or bored.
We humans can’t not see the points and lines, vortices and angles,
of this mapped, graphed, and gridded mile of space.
A geometry of abstract ideals held against the more-or-less random
mud cracks, the dried, like bisqueware, turds,
spaced out islands of scrub brush, tufts of dead non-native grass—
the very image of too much culture.
Long shadows warp and weft. At sunset, the poles wink on,
oddly pretty impinging like that, all gold and tangerine.